From Gandhis, Yadavs to Badals and Thackerays: Dynasties losing hold on voters, insiders

From the Gandhis in Delhi, the Yadavs in Uttar Pradesh, the Badals in Punjab, and now the Thackerays in Maharashtra — it is not a great time...

From the Gandhis in Delhi, the Yadavs in Uttar Pradesh, the Badals in Punjab, and now the Thackerays in Maharashtra — it is not a great time for the many political dynasties in the country.

The Shiv Sena is on the verge of a split with only son Aaditya Thackeray left as a minister-MLA by the side of chief minister Uddhav Thackeray. Nine Sena ministers have already joined the rebel camp led by Eknath Shinde.

Nearly 40 MLAs out of the 55 from Shiv Sena are now camping in Guwahati against their government, in a massive rebellion underscoring that the problems lie inside.

In the north, Akhilesh Yadav has been hurtling from one defeat to another in 2014, 2017, 2019, and 2022 ever since his father Mulayam Singh Yadav handed over the reins of Uttar Pradesh’s chief ministership to him. In the latest two Lok Sabha bypolls, Akhilesh did not even campaign and suffered a humiliating defeat. Even his allies
slammed him for not stepping out in the field.

In Punjab, Sukhbir Badal has been suffering a similar fate, facing a series of reversals in 2014, 2017, 2019, and 2022, with his party Shiromani Akali Dal staring at oblivion now in the state. The era of Parkash Singh Badal as a chief minister for a decade between 2007 and 2017 seems long in the past. The Akali Dal lost its deposit in the recent Sangrur Lok Sabha bypoll.

The Congress under the Gandhis has been suffering one setback after another since 2014, except for the three state election wins in 2018. The party notched up its worst tally in the recent Uttar Pradesh elections, winning just one seat, with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as the state incharge. Things were so bad that the Congress decided not to contest the latest two Lok Sabha bypolls in Uttar Pradesh. The party lost its deposit in the Delhi assembly bypoll in Rajinder Nagar as well as in Sangrur in Punjab, two states where it once ruled.

Voters against dynasty or incapability?

Is all this a case of fathers passing on the chair to not-so-competent sons or a sign of a maturing democracy where voters are no longer influenced by dynasty politics and in fact resent it? And are such family-run parties guilty of not creating democratic structures that accommodate aspirations of other senior leaders inside them,
like an Eknath Shinde?

Prominent political analyst and News18 columnist Badri Narayan says the mood in the country is against dynastic politics and the BJP discourse against it has been well received by the people. “Narendra Modi’s call against parivarvaad has resonated with the people. There is now a critical consciousness in people against it,” he says.

But can it also be a case that the sons lack capability and hence are being rejected by voters? Narayan says capability does have some impact but adds that it is not that Akhilesh Yadav did poor work as chief minister, especially in the last two years of his term.

“The fact is that a bigger force than him exists in the state in the form of the Modi-Yogi duo. The public earlier too had feelings against dynasty but then they were taken in by the charisma of leaders like Lalu Prasad Yadav. The charisma notion has taken a back seat now as other strong alternatives are there. The people’s trust in Modi is strong,” Narayan argues.

The resentment inside

The displeasure against dynastic politics does not seem to be just amidst the public but also inside such familyrun parties. The case of the Shiv Sena has exposed this, where tensions had been simmering for long, and the apparent promotion of Aaditya Thackeray in governance matters and Eknath Shinde alleging interference in his
important ministries like the PWD and urban development. The strategy of the Thackerays to tie up with the Congress and NCP may have damaged its core base.

In Uttar Pradesh, there are now murmurs inside the Samajwadi Party about why Akhilesh Yadav chose his cousin Dharmendra Yadav to fight from the Azamgarh Lok Sabha bypoll seat as he was seen as a rank outsider in the region. "Akhilesh was trying to make up to Dharmendra after he narrowly lost the last Lok Sabha election
from Badaun. Earlier, there was a proposal to make Akhilesh’s wife Dimple Yadav fight from Azamgarh," a senior SP leader said.

Such dynasty-prone notions contributed to the SP’s shock loss from Azamgarh where a local leader in BSP’s Guddu Jamali polled a high number of votes and finished a close third to dent the SP’s chances. Akhilesh’s failed experiments to contest in an alliance with the Congress in 2017, with the BSP in 2019, and with just small
parties in 2022 have all backfired, contrary to his father’s record. His uncle Shivpal Yadav has disapproved of his strategies. “Everyone knows why we lost these bypolls,” Shivpal says.

In Punjab, the political future of the Badals seems to be in a free-fall despite the party’s strong panthic base.

The Badal father-son duo lost seats in the recent assembly elections despite Sukhbir Badal quitting the NDA and championing the cause of the farmer protests against the three controversial agricultural laws of the Centre. He was also projected by his father as the CM face of the party in the 2022 assembly elections, and the
party had a record defeat.

Will other political dynasts in the country take lessons from such experiences and do some course corrections?

The Bannerjees in West Bengal and the Raos in Telangana may have much to think about.

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